Microsoft alleges Russian spies target Ukraine’s allies in 42 countries including US

Along with vicious cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have been engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, companies and aid groups in 42 countries that support Kiev, Microsoft said in a report on Wednesday.

“Since the beginning of the war, Russia’s targets (of Ukraine’s allies) have been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, citing at least one quarter of successful network intrusions.

“Once a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities aimed at allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.

Nearly two-thirds of the targets of cyber espionage involve NATO members. The United States was the main target and Poland, the main channel for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was the second. Over the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen reinforced targets.

A notable exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has not detected any Russian cyber-intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. “Major collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.

Half of the targeted 128 organizations are government agencies and 12 percent are non-governmental organizations, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other goals include companies for telecommunications, energy and defense.

Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defense was “generally stronger” than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyber attacks against 48 different Ukrainian agencies and companies.” Moscow’s military hackers have been careful not to release destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report found.

“In the past month, when the Russian army moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has dropped,” according to the report with the title Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber ​​WarThe company Redmond, Washington, has unique insight into the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams.

Microsoft said that Ukraine has also set an example in data protection. Ukraine went from placing its data on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion – making them vulnerable to airstrikes – to spreading that data in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.

The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and drawing criticism of Russian military war crimes” and calling on people in non-aligned countries.

Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, estimating that “Russian cyber-influence operations have successfully begun the spread of Russian propaganda after the war, with 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”

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